In English I if I want to refer to something specific or non specific I can just do it by adding articles. For example:

I saw a house. (non specific house) = я видел дом

Vs.

I saw the house. (Specific house) = я видел дом?

What is the way to make such sentence in specific form in Russian language, if any?

  • 1
    Does "I saw the house" make sense as a standalone English sentence, out of context? – Quassnoi Oct 8 at 17:22
  • Why not? Just an example > A: Did you see the house? B: Yes, I saw the house. Of course you can say also "I saw the house there." but it isn't necessary. (Indeed, I'm not native English speaker, but this is what I believe based on my experience in English). – Influx Oct 8 at 17:46
  • 4
    With your "A" sentence, it's not standalone and is within context. I'm not a native English speaker either, but as far as I can understand, if you, out of blue, just utter the phrase "I saw the house" (or "did you see the house?"), this will but raise the question: "which house?" For these statements to make sense, both speakers should be aware of the house in question (i. e. be in context). There are ways to convey both those phrases in Russian, but they depend on how exactly was the house put into the context, and it's not obvious from your examples. – Quassnoi Oct 8 at 19:08
  • 4
    In other words you're asking something equivalent to "how do I translate the Russian word рыбе (in sg. dative) to English?" It's a valid complete sentence in some contexts and it's perfectly translatable, but only within those contexts. – Quassnoi Oct 8 at 19:11
  • @Quassnoi i believe one can start the conversation with "did you see the house (on your way here)" and it would imply that house was the only one or the only remarkable one, sometheing close to "the very house". It might be like "а ты видел ТОТ дом" in Russian. Or it might be "a promise" to tell more about THE house and to fill in why it was special. Kind of "no context yet but i'm gonna create it right after the Q" – Arioch Oct 14 at 19:54

There's no such thing like definite and indefinite articles in Russian. What you actually asking essentially is "how come up with two different sentences so there will be one-to-one correspondence between such sentences and usage of definite and indefinite articles". But if you'll think about it you'll realize that that will mean that, well, there are definite and indefinite articles in Russian and, thus, we came to contradiction.

It's like asking "Hey, in our language we have exclusive and inclusive we - how it supposed to be expressed in your language?". The thing is if the concept doesn't exist you can not have single way to do it.

In some cases какой-то would be a fit. In some cases этот. In some - quite small set of cases - один can be used ("один человек когда-то мне сказал" differs from "человек мне когда-то сказал".

But generally speaking this concept just does not belong to Russian. In other words, "I saw a house" depending on context can be translated "] увидел какой-то дом", "я вижу какой-то дом", "я вижу дом" etc. while "I saw the house" can be translated as "я вижу тот самый дом", "я вижу дом", "я вижу этот дом" etc.

"Я видел дом" can mean both "I saw a house" and "I saw the house". Usually it is clear from the context. That's why when native English speakers read my text they easily can add "a" and "the" in many places to correct me (OK, not so many nowadays). Almost never they asked me: do you mean "a" or "the" in a particular place.

In English "a" and "the" are very often dropped in titles of newspaper articles and nobody complains about it - the information is still conveyed clearly. I just looked at the titles in Google News - almost no articles there. For example: "UN report calls for urgent action to avert catastrophic climate change". Should it be "A UN report calls for the urgent action to avert a catastrophic climate change"?

In conclusion: in 95% of cases putting "a" or "the" is redundant even in English. In those 5% cases when you want to distinguish a concrete vs a generic house you can use the words that were already suggested in previous very good answers: один, какой-то, некий vs этот, тот, тот самый. For example (in scientific speech) you can say: Я вижу некий дом. Этот дом имеет три этажа. But you also can say: Я вижу дом. Дом имеет три этажа. Here "некий" and "этот" are assumed.

  • In conclusion: in 95% of cases putting "a" or "the" is redundant even in English Technically I'd say in most of cases it's more important for either article to just denote a noun rather than to actually "modify" it. – seven-phases-max Oct 9 at 20:15
  • @seven-phases-max: Yes, I have such feeling as well. But native speakers will not admit it. :-) You will not be able to find the suggestion to use "the" for this purposes in textbooks of English grammar. – farfareast Oct 10 at 13:40
  • I tend to drop indefinite articles when writing in English and only use definite one, when it is required to anchor the object in the context. And guess what? My American penmate started following the suite. Guess indefinite articles really are of little need :p – Arioch Oct 14 at 19:58

One, and perhaps the most obvious, way to indicate definiteness is through the use of demonstrative pronouns этот/тот

In other cases the definiteness is derived from the context. If a certain house has been discussed or mentioned just now or was before a pause in conversation, the odds that the repeated word дом will mean some new unspoken-of house are pretty high (that is unlikely).

Sometimes a shade of definiteness can follow from the choice of grammatical case as in Accusative vs Genitive/Partitive

хотеть сыр definite
хотеть сыра/у indefinite

A role of indefinite article sometimes could be played by the numeral один similarly to indefinite article ein (one) in German.

To answer the question in the title, Я видел дом means I saw A house

  • 2
    Not my downvote, but I believe it's more of accusative vs genitive: хотеть сыру / хотеть сыр. – Quassnoi Oct 8 at 17:19
  • Not my downvote too. I'd like to know why people downvoted it. – Influx Oct 8 at 17:48
  • @Quassnoi i won't disagree – Баян Купи-ка Oct 8 at 18:45
  • @Influx i have some suspicion at least about one downvoter, but i don't want to point a finger at anyone unfoundedly – Баян Купи-ка Oct 8 at 18:49
  • 1
    It was not my downvote but I think it is related to the last sentence in the answer: "Я видел дом means I saw A house". If it is the first sentence in some chapter ("Я видел дом.") then it definitely will mean "I saw a house", but we can invent a context where it will be "the house". – farfareast Oct 9 at 18:01

From my perspective "Я видел дом" is "I saw the house". If you're talking about non-specific house, you're usually not talking about specific house, so people usually say "Я видел дома" (emphasis is on the last "а". Equals to "I saw houses").

  • So if you were walking around and saw a house on a hill you would say "я видел дома"? – Abakan Oct 8 at 21:47
  • If you saw a house, in Russian it's always "you saw the house", like "you saw this house". It will be always "я видел дом" meaning "I saw this specific house". – user337085 Oct 9 at 17:28
  • 1
    No, it's not true. – Abakan Oct 9 at 20:37
  • Well, I'm Russian native speaker, and I need a better argument instead of "it's not true" ;) – user337085 Oct 9 at 21:30
  • 1
    "the" completely depends on the context, so it's impossible to tell which article do you need to translate я видел дом outside the context. How would you translate — Что ты видел во сне? — Я видел дом? – Quassnoi Oct 10 at 17:59

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.